#Runoff news: #Colorado Reservoirs filling and spilling

From The Denver Post (Chris Bianchi):

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) official survey, Colorado’s reservoirs are officially above-average levels, largely thanks to melted snow from a significantly above-average winter. As of the end of June, the NRCS statewide statistic placed reservoirs at 105 percent of average. That’s the first time statewide reservoir storage has been above average since May of 2018, according to NRCS data…

The situation has likely continued to improve since the end of June, though. According to Denver Water’s reservoir level statistics, more than half of the 11 reservoirs in their system are completely full, and all 11 are filled to at least 92 percent of capacity. Even with statewide reservoirs above average, they were at 76 percent of capacity at the end of June, according to the NRCS. Denver Water’s statistics may indicate that reservoir levels have continued to climb in July as snow remained on the ground deep into the summer…

Most of northern and central Colorado’s reservoirs are at or near capacity. The Yampa, White, Colorado and North Platte reservoir storage systems were at 92 percent or above.

But the biggest improvement from 2018 comes in southwestern Colorado, which was ravaged by drought and wildfires last summer. The San Juan reservoir storage areas were at full capacity at the end of June, nearly double last year’s levels. Hefty improvements were also noted in the Upper Rio Grande and Gunnison storage systems as well.

Powell Expedition—What did the Powell expedition members eat? Then and Now. — @USGS #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The camp and cooking setup for the second expedition (pictured) was likely very similar to the first expedition and consisted of a few pots and pans to cook over a fire. May 4, 1871. (Credit: E.O. Beaman. Public domain.)

From the USGS (Jaime Delano):

Food can be a common thread between peoples of history and today and it often plays an important role in morale, celebration, hardship and bringing people together. How did food influence the original Powell expedition, and how does it factor into modern long-haul rafting trips, such as the one USGS scientists and science support staff are currently engaged in?

In the 19th Century
Adequate food supply was one of the biggest hurdles for the 1869 Powell expedition. The crew started the trip assuming a relatively leisurely pace and packed enough food supplies for 10 months. The explorers had to rely on food preserved by drying (like flour, rice, beans and dried apples) or salting (like bacon). Cooking relied on fires fueled with collected branches and driftwood.

Although the boats had adequate space for a long trip, proper food storage turned out to be more of a challenge than the explorers anticipated. One boat, the No Name, was destroyed three weeks into the trip and a third of the food was lost. Within the salvaged wreckage, Powell was thrilled to discover that the barometers had survived. The crew was more excited that a smuggled keg of whiskey, until then hidden from Powell, had made its way through the rapids unharmed. Not long after losing the No Name, an out-of-control campfire caused the men to lose nearly all their kitchen supplies except for a camp kettle and a few cups and bowls.

To supplement their preserved food stores, the men would hunt, fish and gather wild plants (like currants). The crew also occasionally stole from others’ gardens. One stolen bounty proved to be a mistake — root vegetables pilfered from an interpreter’s garden on the Green River weren’t mature enough to eat, so the men cooked and ate the plant greens instead, including potato greens. Potato greens contain moderate levels of the toxin solanine. All the men became violently ill almost instantly, except for Bradley and Howland, who couldn’t stomach the bitter greens and abstained.

Early in the trip, game was more plentiful (e.g., water fowl, fish, beavers, wild sheep, and deer) but the latter part of trip provided little opportunity for fresh meat because of the steep canyon walls and scarce game. Fish were harder to catch in the lower basin, too, due to a combination of swift currents, muddy waters[DJE3] and poor understanding of the local species.

The boats were frequently flooded and splashed by water, wetting the food and causing it to spoil. Wet, spoiled flour was either thrown out or sifted with mosquito netting. The sugar dissolved into the river. The bacon became rancid, apples frequently had to be re-dried, and supplies ran low. The crew often commented on provision scarcity and how it degraded their morale. One day, while subsisting on half-rations in the Grand Canyon, the explorers happened upon a Native American garden. They stole some squash, which raised everyone’s spirits. With the exception of the stolen squash, the explores only ate biscuits made from spoiled flour and dried apples for the last month of the trip. With two weeks left, the baking soda was lost in the river and the men had to eat unleavened bread. Luckily, coffee was plentiful throughout the trip and would help warm up and lift the spirits of the damp explorers, as long as they could find enough wood to boil water. The crew emerged from the river with only a few days’ provisions left. They found settlers and were taken in and fed a large dinner that included fish and squash.

Austin Alvarado cracks eggs into a sizzling pan for breakfast sandwiches. (Public domain.)

In the 21st Century
Food preservation has come a long way since the first Powell expedition. With the availability of well-insulated coolers, fresh and frozen food lasts as long as the crew has ice. For long trips, meals are pre-planned and staged in date-specific coolers to reduce ice loss from repeated opening. Canned and other shelf-stable foods are easy to find and much more varied than the dried apples, rice and flour of the Powell expedition. The biggest advancement is our ability to keep things dry in coolers, dry bags and sturdy bins, all securely fastened to rafts. The menu is only limited by the creativity and determination of the group. For longer segments, the reduced fresh food can influence morale, just as it did to the Powell crew.

The current Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition is well-provisioned. Fresh supplies are brought in coolers and bins at each segment switch. Food is cooked with propane and charcoal on grills and stoves, without having to rely on driftwood as a fuel source. The menu is varied and flavorful, and includes dishes such as fried eggs, oatmeal and French toast for breakfast; sandwiches, cookies and snack mixes for lunch; and salmon, steak, and fish tacos for dinner. Like Powell’s men, the current crew has not always had such great luck fishing, and, also like the 1869 Powell expedition, coffee remains an essential part of the trip. In addition, SCREE has located 10 Hopi heritage bean variety seeds and reached out to Native American elders in the region to recognize the stolen squash from the historic expedition.

To follow this year’s expedition, see http://www.usgs.gov/powell150.

Powell 150 Expedition – sandwich
Lunch was usually a sandwich packed in the morning, but with great scenery. Photo credit: USGS

Aurora, Colorado Springs move toward building additional Homestake reservoir — The Aurora Sentinel

A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. Aurora and Colorado Springs, seeking to build the reservoir, have recently submitted a drilling application to the U.S. Forest Service to search for fatal flaws in the geology under four potential dam alignments. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grant Stringer):

Local officials say damming a creek between Leadville and Minturn — and routing water normally flowing into the Colorado River — is necessary to sate the future thirsts of a city growing on land where water is scarce.

Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities recently applied together for a permit to drill underground near the creek and test where a large Whitney Reservoir would be best situated.

Aspen Journalism first reported the early step to build the reservoir.

For the dam, the utilities are eyeing four possible locations about six miles southwest of Red Cliff.

But damming Homestake Creek would also require moving the boundary of the Holy Cross Wilderness, affecting ancient, pristine wetlands.

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said the Whitney Reservoir could be built in 25 years if key steps such as test drilling on Forest Service land are approved.

Baker said it’s another creative step to make sure that Aurora doesn’t go dry.

“You don’t leave anything on the table when you’re in Colorado, because most of the water has been appropriated in river basins,” he said.

Baker said the reservoir could eventually hold anywhere from 9,000 acre-feet to 19,000 acre-feet of water. The water would then be pumped near Leadville and travel to the Front Range through tunnels to the South Platte River basin.

Currently, only Aurora and Colorado Springs would benefit, Baker said.

The project is another alliance between Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities. The two cities — the state’s largest behind Denver — are both growing quickly. Baker said the new reservoir could help ensure the taps keep flowing, especially in an era with snowpack decreases that imperil creeks and rivers.

A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The two partners in the transmountain Homestake project have applied to the U.S. Forest Service to drill for soils testing at four potential dam sites.

The Aspen news agency also reported the partners must obtain congressional and presidential approvals to adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary to accommodate a dam.

If the reservoir is built, water would be pumped through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir at Leadville and on to the two cities.

Turrquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

Some activities at Windsor Lake Reservoir are not permitted due to cyanobacteria bloom

Windsor Lake Reservoir. Photo credit: The Town of Windsor

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Tuesday, Windsor announced it was closing Windsor Lake Reservoir because the water tested positive for cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. The test was conducted Thursday.

The popular lake’s swim beach and dog beach have been roped off. Swimming, bathing and pets are not allowed in the water. Rentals and concessions will not be available during the closure.

Permitted motorized and non-motorized boaters are allowed on the lake but tubing and water skiing are not allowed. Boat traffic actually agitates the water and helps reduce the bacteria, which is why it is allowed. Non-motorized boaters can recreate in the reservoir at their own risk.

“Out of an abundance of caution last week, we issued a precautionary health advisory,” Eric Lucas, Windsor’s Director of Parks, Recreation & Culture, stated in a release. “A new sample has been sent to the state laboratory today and we will continue to test weekly until the bacteria clears up.”

The @USDA Didn’t Publish Its Plan to Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change. Here’s Where They Need it the Most — Mother Jones #ActOnClimate

Ogallala Aquifer. This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward. Image credit: Nation Climate Assessment 2018

From Mother Jones (Tom Philpott):

Three ecological disasters that are worthy of hair-on-fire attention by USDA researchers.

The Trump administration’s department of agriculture has apparently settled on its strategy for preparing the food system for an uncertain future: ignore climate change.

This wasn’t always the agency’s tactic. Back in 2017, as Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich recently reported, the USDA was set to release a big plan on how to “help the agriculture industry understand and adapt to climate change.” But “top officials chose not to release the report, and told staff it should be kept for internal use only,” Bottemiller Evich wrote. Weeks before, Bottemiller Evich reported about how the USDA’s top decision makers have systematically “refused to publicize” its own scientists’ research on the impact of climate change on farming.

In the meantime, farmers have already started to feel that impact. A disastrously wet spring in the Midwestern farm belt—consistent with the types of storms that are expected to become more prevalent—delayed planting by weeks and led to the loss of millions of tons of soil. As a result, a huge swath of the US corn and soybean crops are in “poor or very poor condition,” American Farm Bureau Federation economist John Newton told the trade journal Brownfield last week. He says the 2019 harvest is shaping up the be the worst since 2012. That year, a historic drought, combined with hotter-than-normal temperatures, slashed yields in key corn growing states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri.

A 2018 report called the Fourth National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is already having a dramatic impact on farms, and is only getting started. The National Climate Assessment is a collaboration among 13 federal agencies that was mandated by Congress back in 1990 and is obliged to deliver reports every four years, so the the Trump administration could not squash the release outright. Instead, it made a brave effort to to bury the assessment, literally releasing it without fanfare on the Friday after Thanksgiving…

Fruit and vegetable farms get parched. California farms are American’s main source for a roster of the foods we’re always being urged to eat more of: Altogether, they churn out more than a third of vegetables and two-thirds of both fruits and nuts grown in the country…

The corn belt gets deluged. The Midwest’s brutal spring may have been less an anomaly than the shape of things to come, the Fourth National Climate Assessment suggests. And that’s bad news for farmers in the region that supplies the food system with the corn and soybeans that drive meat production and provide cheap sweetener and fats for processed food…

The breadbasket withers. While the Midwest struggles with an overabundance of rain, especially in the spring, the much more arid Great Plains region just to the west has the opposite problem. A large swath of the area, from the Kansas-Colorado border to the Texas panhandle, sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, a kind of vast underground lake that supplies irrigation for the “most productive farm belts in the world,” the climate assessment reports. The region’s farms produce $35 billion worth of goods annually, including “one-fifth of the Nation’s wheat, corn, and cotton, and the southern half of the region accounts for more than one-third of the beef cattle production.”